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Netanyahu and the redefinition of conflict

Negotiations based on a two-state paradigm that may never have been feasible won’t bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to achieving peace. A new model must better address the past, understand the core issues of the conflict, and establish a workable solution for the future.

Many words have been ascribed over the years to Israeli actions in the occupied territories—particularly the establishment of the colonial matrix—and how these have consequently extinguished the possibility of a two-state agreement.

What has received lesser attention, but was given note in Daniel Levy’s thoughtful analysis in Foreign Policy on the legacy of Benyamin Netanyahu, are the contributions Netanyahu’s ideology  has made to this same effort. Indeed, in rare fashion, I found myself agreeing with a part of Netanyahu’s otherwise ridiculous speech at the United Nations in September, when he reset the chronological roots of the conflict from 1967 to 1948.

Although Levy’s piece delves into many aspects of the ‘Bibi-effect,’ of particular note are the parts on the Israeli prime minister’s redefinition of the conflict and where this may take us in the future.

… Netanyahu is castrating the old Oslo peace process of any last vestiges of potency. Intriguingly, he is also perhaps establishing a more honest Israeli-Palestinian playing field. Addressing the Knesset in this May just prior to his departure for Washington, Netanyahu asserted: “It is not a conflict over 1967, but over 1948.”

Oslo was an attempt to subsume the weighty issues of Israel’s creation, Israel’s ethnocratic character, and Palestinian dispossession, and emphasize a resolution of issues arising from the 1967 occupation. Despite U.S., Quartet (EU-Russian-U.N.-U.S.), and other attempts to force the conflict back into that 1967 box, Netanyahu has probably drawn a line under a certain 1967-centric period in Israeli-Palestinian history.

Interestingly enough—in his backhanded way—Netanyahu may be driving the conflict into an historic reformulation, one with which even Palestinian critics of Oslo and the peace process would agree. Not only have Israeli policies forced us away from 1967 on the ground, but politicians like Netanyahu are pushing 1948 back into the public discourse.

But the ironic favor that Netanyahu might be doing to peace and reconciliation efforts is that by relitigating history in that way he might have in fact forced all issues, including those of 1948, to be more fully addressed in any future genuine attempt at peace — far more than was the case in the negotiations of the Barak-Olmert years.

What Netanyahu has in mind, however, is a continuation of the status quo: Israel using its superior force to posit one party over another and exploiting the land, its heritage and its resources to that end. In other words, subjugation is the means by which Netanyahu intends on settling/perpetuating this conflict.

Instead, we must return to the issues of 1948—obviously keeping in mind that the clock cannot be turned back 63 years—in an effort to establish a more just and enduring compromise over sharing the land.

As Levy says, the Israel of today is not the one of the past. Far from being an aberration, Netanyahu is now representative of a strong base in Israeli society and politics. Recognizing this fact, we cannot expect this Israel to easily come to terms with a reality that defies its ideological foundation – not without some serious economic and political pressure. Words are simply not enough, no matter how much the West wishes it to be so.

There is a long road ahead that will require a total reformulation of the way we intend on ending this conflict. A return to the negotiating table at this juncture and with this government will not bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to achieving a historic peace—especially one predicated on a two-state paradigm that is no longer (if it ever was) feasible. There must be a simultaneous implementation of global pressure as well as a rethinking of where we are going.

It is the fear of being cut off from the other side, by partition, that has kept this conflict going for so many years. Israelis fear being separated from East Jerusalem, from their historical lineage in Judea and Samaria. Palestinians fear losing their patrimony and property in the Galilee, the Naqab, and the coastal plain from Acca to Ashdud. Netanyahu, and those around him, wish to ensure their access either by force or through an (coerced) agreement that enshrines the supremacy of their rights–the sovereignty/autonomy paradigm.

Those interested in coming to an agreement on parity must go back to the drawing board and design a system that is better suited to addressing the past, understanding the core issues of the conflict, and establishing a workable solution for the future. Over the past decade there have been several attempts in this regard.* Obviously, there is still work to be done. But it has become clear that only in this effort will the world be able to bring this long chapter to a close in a manner befitting the rights and aspirations of all those concerned.

*An example alternative solution:

Forget the old two-state solution: Tackling the hard stuff in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

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    1. Dan

      I agree with the writer on many of the points, and that the ‘two-state solution’ is no real solution, but there is one point that strikes me as a misconstruction. I don’t believe most Israelis care that much for East Jerusalem or for any “historical lineage in Judea and Samaria”. What most Israelis do care about is security, and they know that when they look at the map a border drawn 80km from Tel Aviv makes them feel safer than one drawn just 20km away. So while Palestinians may “fear losing their patrimony and property in the Galilee, the Naqab, and the coastal plain from Acca to Ashdud” I think most Israelis couldn’t care less about losing any patrimony in Hebron – they just want a clear-cut guarantee that they’re not about to hand-out a bunch of territory for a promise and a nasty surprise down the line.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kardimon

      Sorry, but your conclusion is just wrong.

      “It is the fear of being cut off from the other side, by partition, that has kept this conflict going for so many years. ”

      It is the fear of an Arab insistence on the destruction of the Jewish state that has kept this conflict going for so many years. The hypothetical question that every Israeli Jew asks is: ‘Were we to make these concessions, do we expose our state to the whims and ebbs of a harsh and unstable Arab world which never liked us in the first place?’

      Any plan that includes an influx of Palestinian Arabs brought up on a diet of anti-Semitic hatred into Israel is a non-starter. It is absurd to willingly admit into your house those that wish to kill you, regardless of their justifications.

      It doesn’t matter if a plan grants them Israeli citizenship or Palestinian citizenship or Finnish citizenship. The main problem is that they will be sharpening their knives next door the next time the region descends into a Spring, Winter, Fall, or Summer.

      Reply to Comment
    3. RichardNYC

      “Those interested in coming to an agreement on parity must go back to the drawing board and design a system that is better suited to addressing the past, understanding the core issues of the conflict, and establishing a workable solution for the future.”
      –>What does this even mean? This statement, and this piece, are not about shifting any kind of major paradigm, but re-branding Palestinian/Arab rejectionism that’s always been there. Yes, Palestinians are not satified with the idea of (1) no return (2) no Jerusalem (3) big settlement blocs stay put. But that doesn’t mean there’s a better alternative than two states, as far as peace and stability are concerned. Proposals like the one in the FP piece are simply fantastical, given what everyone in Israel/Palestine actually believe and what their incentives actually are. Meanwhile, BDS and its sympathizers are making no measurable progress – Israel is expanding its economic, scientific, and military ties Europe and Asia, and its economy is still very strong on the fundamentals, with a massive gas-exporting project in the works. Palestinian propaganda has simply failed, and meanwhile, Palestinian population growth in the West Bank is clearly outstripping Jewish growth, proportionally speaking, and there are not really that many settlers east of border that Israel can choose to set unilaterally whenever it wants. Can you provide more substance on your “colonial matrix” argument? Yes, of course, Palestinians are squirming and coming up with new jargon to express their intransigence, but that doesn’t really mean anything substantively. The demographic/geographic/economic argument for at least MANAGEMENT of the conflict based on a two state/three state outcome is still BY FAR the most realistic proposal.

      Reply to Comment
    4. directrob

      “whims and ebbs of a harsh and unstable Arab world”
      “influx of Palestinian Arabs brought up on a diet of anti-Semitic hatred”
      “sharpening their knives next door”
      Very creative, one should almost forget we are talking about mothers, fathers and children that look for a peaceful future.

      Reply to Comment
    5. As usual, a painful but truth-telling article — Rahman’s — is greeted with vitriol. I am a 2-stater but, empirically, must agree that the option is nearly gone, that one “Greater Israel” is almost a fact and that the Palestinian struggle will understandably transform into a civil rights movement within a single state. The only game changer would, indeed, be massive international pressure on Israel. Unfortunately,the message to Omar on that is “don’t hold your breath.”

      Reply to Comment
    6. RichardNYC

      Why is it almost gone?

      Reply to Comment
    7. It is weary stuff your contributors roll out
      Arabs are always terrorists and Israelis are always defence forces. Israelis pretend to some nonsense about the land being given to them by God. When? How? Why ?
      Did God give me and my family Britain or the French France ?
      Did he have a loud speaker when he spoke to the tribes of Israel ?

      You have to understand there are millions of us who object to this chosen people rhetoric as fanciful and fantastical. You can no more prove it than I can prove that the myriad peoples who I live along side in London have no right to enjoy and profit from their settling here
      I recoil equally in horror at the hate filled crimes of suicide bombers and crazed settlers and soldiers killing children.
      Sound and Fury signifying nothing
      Israel is doomed unless it becomes properly Jewish again in the sense of 18th century enlighternment in the image of Spinoza

      Reply to Comment